GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are 5-1 and the Minnesota Vikings are 1-5 headed into Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field. The records and the betting line – the Packers are 6.5-point favorites – tell the tale of the Packers’ superiority.
Coach Matt LaFleur doesn’t want to hear any of it.
“We know we have a really good North opponent,” LaFleur said on Monday. “I don’t really care what the record states. We know that we’re going to get the best Minnesota Viking team that we’ve seen up to this point. I think they’re extremely dangerous and we’ve got to come ready to play.”
Here are five keys to the game.
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1. Matt vs. Mike
The Vikings went into this season expecting the defensive end combo of Danielle Hunter and Yannick Ngakoue to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks but much easier for the team’s unproven cornerbacks.
So much for that. Hunter is on injured reserve and reportedly will have season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disc. Ngakoue, acquired for second- and fifth-round draft picks before the season, had five sacks in the first six games but was traded to Baltimore for third- and fifth-round picks during the bye.
So, the Vikings will have unproven defensive ends trying to prevent Aaron Rodgers from dissecting a struggling secondary. Expect Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to unleash every blitz in his enormous arsenal in an attempt to disrupt Rodgers. In Green Bay’s Week 1 romp, Rodgers’ passer rating when blitzed was 50 points less than when not blitzed. It will be up to LaFleur to have the answers.
2. Somebody Besides Adams?
In that Week 1 game, Adams tied Don Hutson’s franchise record with 14 receptions.
“He’s terrific,” Zimmer said on Monday. “These young corners, that’s part of the deal. It’s not like college. You get a good [receiver] every week and you get a quarterback that can really throw the heck out of the football. Davante has been terrific on crossing routes, terrific on the deep throws, versus press, versus off, he catches the ball on the sideline.”
Coming off a bye, Zimmer’s had plenty of time to create a plan to slow Rodgers and Adams. Chances are, Zimmer will do everything in his power to force Rodgers to throw the ball to anyone but No. 17. It will be up to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Robert Tonyan or someone else to make the Vikings pay.
3. Jaire vs. Jefferson
In Week 1, Vikings first-round receiver Justin Jefferson caught only two passes. He’s become perhaps the hottest receiver on the planet, though. In his last four games, he’s caught 23 passes for 467 yards, averaged 20.3 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns. With three 100-yard games, he’s No. 1 in the NFL in yards and yards per catch during that span.
Presumably, the Packers will put premier cornerback Jaire Alexander on Jefferson. Alexander was targeted only once against Houston – he broke up that pass – and has allowed 6-of-12 passing for merely 37 yards the last four games, according to Pro Football Focus. This battle between game-changing players will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
4. Picking on Cousins
This is Kirk Cousins’ third season as Minnesota’s quarterback. In 2018, he completed 70.1 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In 2019, he completed 69.1 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions.
In 2020, he’s completed 64.5 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and a league-worst 10 interceptions. After posting an interception percentage of 2.0 or better in four of the previous five seasons, he’s been picked off on 5.7 percent of his passes this season.
Green Bay got its pass rush cranked up against Houston, with a season-best 18 total pressures, according to PFF. However, it’s a woeful 30th with a 1.00 percent interception rate. If Cousins gives the Packers some opportunities, it’s past time to take advantage.
“Obviously,” Zimmer said, “we can't turn the ball over and do the things that we're doing and making penalties and things that don't allow us to win games.”
5. Hold Onto Your Hats
Here’s the forecast for Sunday: high of 38 with winds gusting to 40 mph.
If that forecast holds up and the wind is howling, it might turn the offensive focus from the quarterbacks to the running backs. Will Green Bay’s Aaron Jones be back after missing the Houston game with an injured calf? Will last week’s bye get Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook back on the field after he missed the Atlanta game with an injured groin?
Minnesota has had a hard time protecting Cousins but it ranks fifth with 5.00 yards per carry. Green Bay’s run defense was strong against Atlanta in Week 4 and Houston last week but is 20th with 4.55 yards allowed per carry.